As coronavirus spikes, NYC prepares to close schools again

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In this Oct. 29, 2020 photo, students at West Brooklyn Community High School listen to questions posed by their principal during a current events-trivia quiz and pizza party in the school's cafeteria in New York. The school recently reopened after a three-week shutdown due to coronavirus cases in the neighborhood. It caters to students who haven't done well elsewhere, giving them a chance to graduate and succeed. (AP Photo/Kathy Willen, File)

NEW YORK – A coronavirus resurgence in New York City is threatening to halt the nation’s biggest experiment with in-person learning.

The city's public school system this fall became one of just a few large, urban districts in the U.S. to welcome students back into classrooms. A little more than a quarter of the city's 1.1 million pupils have been attending classes in person between one and three days a week.

Just a few weeks ago, the return was going well enough that officials decided to give a little shove to parents who had opted to stick with all-remote learning: Send your kids back now, parents were told, or forfeit the option of having them return later this academic year.

But as the Sunday deadline to make the switch loomed, the city also approached a threshold the mayor set to suspend in-person learning.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he will close all school buildings if 3% of the COVID-19 tests performed in the city over a seven-day period came back positive. That mark was set over the summer as the city was trying to avoid a teachers' strike.

De Blasio said Friday that the citywide positivity rate has risen to 2.8% after climbing for several weeks. The city is preparing to close all school buildings as soon as Monday if the rate crosses the threshold over the weekend, he said.

“I want to urge parents to have a plan ready that they can put into effect as early as Monday," de Blasio said during his weekly talk on WNYC radio. “Parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November.”

Some parents expressed frustration that they were being asked to make a decision about sending children back into classrooms, when the city itself is not even sure what will happen next.